|06TUNIS2801||2006-11-24 09:14:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Tunis|
P 240914Z NOV 06 FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2256
1. (C/NF) Summary: Ambassador Godec presented a copy of his
credentials to Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdelwaheb
Abdallah on November 18. In an hour long meeting, Ambassador
and FM discussed a range of issues, but clearly most
important to Abdallah was the point he made the week before
to Charge (reftel) that the GOT's restriction of Embassy
officers' access to NGOs was minor and should not rise to the
level of Washington. Ambassador responded that freedom of
association and expression, and freedom of access for Embassy
officers, were of great importance to the United States.
Throughout the conversation, Abdallah returned several times
to this subject, at times emotionally. It was unusual that
Abdallah turned a courtesy call into such a lengthy
discussion. We believe that the action by Washington
officials to raise the matter was noted by the presidency,
causing Abdallah some discomfort. End summary.
2. (U) Ambassador Godec presented a copy of his credentials
to Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdelwaheb Abdallah on
November 18. Tunisian protocol allows an ambassador who has
presented a copy of credentials to the foreign minister to
act as ambassador even before presenting credentials to the
chief of state. Since President Ben Ali only receives
ambassadors' credentials twice a year, this is a useful
mechanism allowing ambassadors to meet with everyone except
the Presidency as soon as they see the foreign minister.
Abdallah explained that he called the Ambassador in so
quickly (three days' after Ambassador's arrival) because he
was leaving the country for a week and did not want the
Ambassador to have to wait until his return.
3. (C/NF) Though the meeting was advertised as a
fifteen-minute "courtesy call," Abdallah soon launched into
what was really on his mind. In a conversation that echoed
what he told Charge the previous week (reftel), Abdallah
complained that the embassy should not have made an issue out
of being prevented by the police from meeting human rights
activists (the Tunisian League for Human Rights -- LTDH), and
this misunderstanding should have never risen to the level of
Washington officials (A/S Welch to Abdallah, and U/S Burns
and NSC Abrams to Tunisian Ambassador Hachana). Abdallah
returned to this subject several times during the
conversation, noting that the United States and Tunisia are
"allies" and "strategic partners" and -- surprisingly -- that
"There has never been a time when we did not support US
positions, because we believe US policies are just."
Ambassador responded to each of these torrents that freedom
of association and expression in Tunisia, as well as freedom
of access for Embassy Officers, would always be of great
importance to the United States.
4. (C/NF) Comment: It was unusual that Foreign Minister
Abdallah turned an introductory courtesy call by the
Ambassador into a sometimes emotional plea that the Embassy
stop making the LTDH incidents an issue. Of particular note
is that Abdallah -- in a first for a GOT official speaking on
the record -- implicitly admitted that the Ministry of
Interior was behind the restrictions on the Embassy's work.
He said that his ministry was there to help the Embassy
navigate the complicated Tunisian bureaucracy, and sighed
that ministries were jealous of their turf. By way of
example, he said, "The Ministry of Interior insists on its
prerogatives, even if this creates problems for the work of
other ministries, like Foreign Affairs."
5. (C/NF) Comment continued: The meeting with Abdallah
underscores again that the GOT is more comfortable discussing
foreign policy (Israel-Palestine issues, Libya, Iran, or
terrorism) than it is debating domestic subjects. As
Abdallah put it, "Please understand the important difference
between little things and big things that count in relations
between states. Small problems should not become big
problems." We believe that officials in the Presidency have
taken note of Washington raising the LTDH incidents and told
Abdallah to get the Embassy back in line. End comment.